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Healing from Hip Replacement Surgery

Last updated: January 12, 2024

Across all of medicine, not just orthopedics, hip replacements are one of the most successful surgeries in terms of patient satisfaction and complication rate.

Dr. Michael Ziegele, Orthopedic Surgeon and Hip and Knee Reconstruction Specialist, ThedaCare Orthopedic Care

Choosing to have hip replacement surgery is a big decision that brings up many questions. At the top of the list for many people is, “How long does it take to recover?”

It’s natural to wonder about both pain and downtime following a major surgery. For answers, we checked in with Dr. Michael Ziegele, an Orthopedic Surgeon and Hip and Knee Reconstruction Specialist with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care.

Hip Replacement Overview

Before diving into recovery, it helps to understand more about hip replacement in general. Also known as total hip arthroplasty, the procedure involves the surgeon removing the diseased (arthritic) portions of the hip joint and replacing them with prosthetic components.

Doctors often recommend that people begin with non-operative measures to treat their hip pain. These may include physical therapy, medications, and injections. When those no longer work, hip replacement surgery may become an option.

“Hip replacement aims to restore what you lost: the ability to move without pain,” Dr. Ziegele says. “People who experience daily functional pain, decreasing quality of life, and mobility issues may be good candidates for hip replacement.”

Through the procedure, the surgeon inserts a metal cup into the socket in the pelvic bone and implants a new ball that affixes to a stem. The stem goes down into the leg (femur) bone. The procedure also addresses any leg length discrepancy and allows for eventual pain-free weightbearing and range of motion.

Innovation and Safety

When it comes to hip replacement, there are two main surgical approaches: posterior, the traditional method; and anterior, the newer, more innovative method.

Both Dr. Ziegele and his colleague, Dr. David Liebelt, use the anterior approach because of the many advantages it offers. The intraoperative, X-ray-guided procedure allows the surgeon to confirm the implant position. The anterior approach is muscle-sparing versus muscle-splitting and has a decreased recovery time and reduced dislocation risk.

“Across all of medicine, not just orthopedics, hip replacements are one of the most successful surgeries in terms of patient satisfaction and complication rate,” Dr. Ziegele says.

According to a study in The Lancet Journal, about 75% of hip replacements last between 15 and 20 years, and a little more than half serve their purpose for 25 years or longer.

Recovery Process

“With hip replacement surgery, people tend to recover more quickly than with other joint replacement surgeries,” Dr. Ziegele says.

If you pursue hip surgery, your surgeon will advise you on recovery times and activity expectations based on your individual circumstances.

Most people who undergo hip replacement return home the same night. At the beginning of the recovery process, people often use a cane or walker for stability but can soon stop using assistive devices altogether. They’ll also do an exercise program either at home or through physical therapy at the surgery center or hospital.

“The first two weeks following surgery, you likely will still feel some pain as your surgical wound heals and you work through your physical therapy exercises,” Dr. Ziegele says.

At two weeks post-surgery, people often feel like they are turning the corner. At six weeks, most people feel good, and by week 12, “they often feel great,” Dr. Ziegele says. Full recovery can take up to a year.  

Following surgery, patients typically have physician follow-up visits at two weeks, six weeks, 12 weeks, and one year, or as needed.

“People often ask what they can do after surgery,” Dr. Ziegele says. “I tell them, whatever you would like to do — safely. You’re doing this to improve your quality of life and to get back to doing what you want to do. My goal is that you never think about your hip again after you have hip replacement surgery.” If you’d like to learn more about hip pain and surgery options, you can attend the ThedaCare Orthopedic Care Hip Pain Seminar, taking place Wednesday, Feb. 7, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain in Appleton. The event is free, but registration is required. Sign up today.

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